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‘Shared responsibility’

Mobilizing knowledge to protect and enhance the East Coast Trail


By Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson

Students from across the St. John’s campus are working together to help map the East Coast Trail from Topsail to Cappahayden.

The internationally renowned trail system, which highlights the natural beauty of the Island of Newfoundland’s east coast and draws outdoor enthusiasts from around the world, consists of more than 300 kilometres of developed trail.

However, it is a vulnerable trail system; much of the trail is adjacent to developments and urban encroachment. The East Coast Trail Association (ECTA) says it is more important than ever to work with landowners and partners to update the trail’s data.

Using the skills they’ve acquired through their programs, Memorial students from a variety of academic disciplines are working to do just that — and enhancing hikers’ experience of the trail along the way.

Interdisciplinary and community-based

Partners in this new interdisciplinary, community-based learning project include the ECTA, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Faculty of Science, Student Life and the Queen Elizabeth II Library.

“The ECTA project is an example of what is possible when a community organization and the university come together.” — Lisa Russell

Outputs of the project include the translation of signage and web materials into German and other modern languages, the collection of geodata on the trail and the creation of an iOS application for hikers and users of the trail.

“The ECTA project is an example of what is possible when a community organization and the university come together,” said Lisa Russell, manager, experiential learning, Career Development and Experiential Learning. “This project ties to students’ academic requirements and proficiencies and, in some instances, they will be graded on their work for this project.

“In other instances, the involvement of students and faculty does not tie directly to a course grade, but supports continued development and proficiency in the competencies and outlooks Memorial seeks to cultivate in its students. This project involves multiple academic and administrative areas in offering diverse and interrelated sets of expertise to achieve something on a grand scale.”

Theory and practice

While still in its initial stages, the translation aspect of the project is already having an impact on both students and instructors in the German program.

From left, students Matthew Blundon, Kyleigh Mercer, Justin Fitzgerald, Abby Ledwell, and Jenna Robertson translate maps of the East Coast Trail from English to German.
From left, students Matthew Blundon, Kyleigh Mercer, Justin Fitzgerald, Abby Ledwell, and Jenna Robertson translate maps of the East Coast Trail from English to German.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Kate McGregor, a German major, works with Dr. Maria Mayr, an assistant professor in Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, on preparing English-German vocabulary lists.

The lists will aid students in advanced German courses in translating the East Coast Trail maps and website as integral parts of their coursework.

The project is fostering Ms. McGregor’s awareness that the diversity of language reflects the diversity of the natural environment, which is shaped by the elements.

For Ms. McGregor, finding the proper translation for the wide variety of vegetation, from tuckamore to twisted wood to heath, or for the various bodies of water, including brook, stream, river, pond or lake, has greatly enhanced her awareness and appreciation for the richness and diversity of Newfoundland and Labrador’s natural environment.

“As a student from Ontario, this project has made me more aware of the environmental differences between Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.”

‘Broad’ BA

Kiley Billard, a student in the Department of Geography, has been with the project since its beginning.

He says the partnership with the ECTA has shown him the broad outcomes associated with a bachelor of arts degree.

“This project shows that it is possible for people to interact with the environment in a productive capability.” — Kiley Billard

“My work mainly consisted of optimizing an existing mobile app to our needs and then utilizing it in the field to further refine it,” said Mr. Billard. “This project shows that it is possible for people to interact with the environment in a productive capability.

“It also reminded me how beautiful Newfoundland and Labrador’s natural environment is and how carefully managed the East Coast Trail is, to have as minimal of an impact as possible.”

Healthy trails

Michelle Valliant, an undergraduate student in marine biology, who is also completing an advanced diploma in geographical information systems (GIS), has been working on the project since September, assisting with physical trail surveying, measuring features along the hiking trail and describing the paths.

“I’m learning what is needed and expected as a field technician to provide recorded data for geographical purposes,” said Ms. Valliant. “This project contributes to knowing what work needs to be done on the East Coast Trail based on maintenance and interpreting what geographical characteristics are present along the trails.

Evan Cottrell (folklore), Michelle Valliant (biology and Advanced GIS) on the East Coast Trail.
Students Evan Cottrell (folklore) and Michelle Valliant (biology and advanced GIS) on the East Coast Trail.
Photo: Submitted

“It gives an understanding of vegetational aspects, the kind of terrestrial and marine life that live on land and along the coast of the trails, and the importance of keeping the trails healthy, regulated and maintained where there are no major disturbances affecting their natural attributes.”

By collecting data, the students are also collecting stories and experiences.

Evan Cottrell, a folklore student, has assisted with data collection on the La Manche trail and Mickeleen’s Path. He says he’s been gathering stories and traditions from the communities that surround the trails he’s hiked.

“As an arts student, it motivates me to study cultural geography and folklore.” — Evan Cottrell

“As I gain basic surveying and field data collecting skills,” he said, “I begin to get a good grasp of the folklore that is unique to each trail I’ve hiked, and as an arts student, it motivates me to study cultural geography and folklore.”

Dan Duda, map librarian, Queen Elizabeth II Library, is also a partner in this project. As a librarian, he says he is involved with the process of organizing and preserving knowledge, as well as seeing that the knowledge is used to help create new knowledge.

“The East Coast Trail project helps students realize their knowledge is needed by society to help solve problems and help create better or more services,” said Mr. Duda.

“It’s projects like these that help students see how their classroom and lab experiences can affect their world — knowledge creating knowledge.”

M”app”ing the environment

From left are Kate McGregor, Dr. Yuanzhu Chen, Randy Murphy, Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson, Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, Dr. Maria Mayr, Dr. Isabell Woelfel, Ali Alfosool and baby.
From left are Kate McGregor, Dr. Yuanzhu Chen, Randy Murphy, Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson, Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, Dr. Maria Mayr, Dr. Isabell Woelfel, Ali Alfosool and baby.
Photo: Submitted

“Learning through practice is critically important in the field of cartography that I teach,” said Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, Department of Geography. “It also helped me make useful contacts and find new collaborators within the university community, like Dr. Yuanzhu Chen.”

Dr. Chen, a professor in the Department of Computer Science, is working with graduate student Ali Alfosool on the project. Mr. Alfosool is the lead designer of an iOS app for the trail, which is in the design stage.

“In this project, we aim to bring people closer through our locally designed social network system, promote healthier lifestyles using our fitness apps and support and give back to our local communities by promoting their amazing services,” said Mr. Alfosool, “as well as make hiking safer and more meaningful by providing free, geo-based safety and historical information.”

Dr. Chen finds the mobile social networking aspect of the project especially interesting. He says that when user messages, media posts and responses to them are geo-tagged, the app can provide more relevant information nearby the user’s current location, or about any given location.

“It is much more intelligent and targeted, and a leap ahead in mobile computing. Moreover, the use of radio beacons to mark the landscape gives the hikers location-aware services even when the GPS and cellular radios are off.”

‘Shared responsibility’

Randy Murphy, president of the ECTA, is pleased with the project so far.

He says the project is a “key” measure of the collaborative partnership the association wishes to grow with Memorial.

“Community-based partnerships are critical to the long-term success and survival of the East Coast Trail.” — Randy Murphy

“Our future will be driven and determined by our access to and application of the knowledge, expertise, experience and the community engagement we require to support effective collaboration and informed decision-making,” said Mr. Murphy.

“Community-based partnerships are critical to the long-term success and survival of the East Coast Trail. The long-term health and welfare of the East Coast Trail is a shared responsibility, and our partnership with Memorial is essential to our future.”

Next steps on the trail

During the initial phases of the project, students from five departments and four faculties worked with faculty members, staff and external consultants to develop a mobile application and the first of two information layers.

In the next phase, the educational opportunity will be promoted to students in archaeology, history, folklore and other departments to encourage the creation of further teaching and learning partnerships within the university and wider communities.

The East Coast Trail Project received an Accelerator Grant from Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement, and also received a Teaching and Learning Grant.


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